The era of semi-autonomous rail is under way in Honolulu, and the agency that will manage the construction and operation of the city’s 20-mile train line is moving quickly.

At its first meeting Friday, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board conducted business efficiently, almost to the point of being scripted. Within moments of the meeting’s end, staff distributed a press release with quotes that hadn’t been said on the floor.

The eight-member board tapped former Honolulu Corporation Counsel Carrie Okinaga as chair and Rapid Transit Division chief Toru Hamayasu as interim executive director. In other words, the board will have strong ties to the Carlisle administration.

But the board’s moves will likely diffuse tensions between Mayor Peter Carlisle and the Honolulu City Council. In about an hour, it adopted rules and polices and enacted operating and capital budgets.

The $20.5 million operating budget and $354.7 million capital budget adopted by HART mirror the amounts approved by the City Council in a pair of bills that were vetoed by Carlisle. The council unanimously override those vetoes, setting up a possible showdown in court. But Carlisle deferred to the HART board on any potential legal action against the council.

HART on Friday said it will not pursue a lawsuit at this time.

“Legal action is clearly not in the best interest of the taxpayers and I am confident we can work with City Council and the Administration in providing budget oversight,” Finance Committee Chair and First Hawaiian Bank executive Don Horner said in the press release.

Okinaga circulated standing committee assignments for the board members; among them are a human resources subcommittee that will handle the search for a ninth board member and for a permanent executive director.

Horner told Civil Beat that he expects all stakeholders — including both the City Council and the administration — to work together on budgets for future years.

New City Council Budget Committee Chair Ann Kobayashi told Civil Beat that she considers the council’s proviso that HART not sell bonds until it has a full funding agreement with the federal government to be important. After a cursory review of the HART budget resolution provided to her by Civil Beat, she said that will become an issue only if HART tries to proceed with a bond sale prematurely and that she didn’t anticipate legal action at this time.

Council Chair Ernie Martin put out a statement supporting the HART board Friday afternoon, saying, “I am confident that under the leadership of HART, all future expenditures will be carefully monitored. The City Council is ready to let the new HART board do the job with the authority and responsibility explicitly stated in the Charter.”

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